Romania: Where fun is no longer verboten

Chasing Summer tracks a young Newfoundlander travelling the world on her motorcycle…

Our trip began in a more “Sherrie fashion” than stereotypical “German fashion.” Anyone who’s been to Southern Germany has undoubtedly had a few preconceived ideas about Germans confirmed. They’re known for their meticulous planning and their playing by the rules, and this is more often than not true. I’ve been privy to more than one extended family outing where the night before departure a family meeting is called and a list is produced with times, destinations and kilometers expected at each point. I don’t normally believe in stereotypes, but when a loved one hands you a list stating that you will pee at 11:53 a.m the next morning, well…

(However, in an effort to fight against stereotypes, may I state that the belief that Germans get naked at will is in fact limited to places such as saunas and sanctioned park zones. It only appears to the untrained eye like a large segment of the German population frequently decides to spontaneously strip down and lie in the grass.)

But I digress. When it comes to trip planning, my boyfriend (aka the German), is much more like me than his family members. We set a date, it passes, and then we depart anywhere from hours to days later. In this case it was a mere five hours, and we rolled away at 1:00 am to start our ride to Switzerland. This triumph of sorts was offset by the fact that we were passport-less. It turns out that to get a visa to Russia for a Canadian is much more of a challenge than anticipated. We were counting on Switzerland not pulling a random passport check, and we arranged to have our passports (with Russian visas) sent to Italy, where we would spend two weeks on holiday with the German’s family before starting the “real” part of the trip. Everything went according to plan, and three days before we were set to leave Italy our passports arrived with all necessary documentation. We then set off on a mad dash through Eastern Europe to reach Romania.

Too pretty for vampires

Romania is one of my favorite places to motorcycle, and we slowed down our frantic pace to enjoy the country. As a country it is perhaps best known as Dracula’s homeland. But rather than a dark and depressing land that spawns the undead, Romania – and Transylvania in particular – is a land of outstanding beauty. Churches are nestled into hillsides (and prior to Romania I never thought I would ever have the opportunity, let alone the desire, to use the word nestled), rivers run along mountain roads, and the use of horse and carriage is still widespread. The only thing one would call deadly about the entire experience were the roads themselves, which at times required extreme talent in the art of pothole dodging (my training in the streets of St. John’s helped me there).

Romania is close enough to Germany that this was our third visit with our bikes, but far enough away that Germany may as well have been another planet. Romanians’ approach to life is a little more laissez fare than the Germans’. Whenever we camped wild and someone came across our tents, instead of telling us to move (or calling the police), Romanians would ask about the bikes. It was as if coming out and finding some Germans in the middle of nowhere was completely normal and no cause for concern.

(Of course I half suspect it is. Germans are everywhere. My friend Caroline and I have a joke that you can be in any remote area in the world, believe you are alone, and a German will pop out from behind a rock or a tree. They will then comment on the perfection of nature, which “is marred only by the lack of a decent loaf of bread”. This fact has been noted by others, and has resulted in German bakeries being opened in unlikely spots in the Himalayas and the deserts of the Middle East.)

There was in fact just one minor blip in the entire Romanian experience and it happened our first night. We had just set up camp in what we took to be an abandoned field and had begun our first BBQ of the trip. The smoke must have alerted someone to our presence, for just as we were laying our cheese stuffed peppers and shish kebabs on the grill a car came bouncing down the hill. I say bouncing because the path that led down from the hill was more a suggestion of a trail than a set path – let alone a road.

My admiration stopped short however as two guys – one with a rifle – jumped out of the car and approached us. Seeing that we were German however (as my bike has German plates it is usually assumed I am also German), they merely wished us “Guten Appetite” and told us to make sure our fire was out at night. They then got back into the car and drove away, leaving us to speculate about the circumstances under which they needed a gun in the first place.

Of course most people assume that men with guns go with the wild camping experience. But we were much more likely to meet men with cows or horses rather than weapons going through the woods in Romania. And like the men with guns, all smiled and waved and carried on with their business. The rules had relaxed, it was time to ride and enjoy the land, which is why we ride to begin with. We were still within the European Union, but the more relaxed approach to life had already begun.

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